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Monday, June 2, 2014

Independent study recommends Greeley Park east site for new Nashua playground

NASHUA – An independent study commissioned by Nashua’s Board of Aldermen is pointing to Greeley Park as the optimal location for a new playground in the city, but the recommendation isn’t exactly in line with earlier proposals.

Leadership Greater Nashua, the group hoping to build the playground, was advocating previously to replace the playground equipment on the west side of Greeley Park. ...

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NASHUA – An independent study commissioned by Nashua’s Board of Aldermen is pointing to Greeley Park as the optimal location for a new playground in the city, but the recommendation isn’t exactly in line with earlier proposals.

Leadership Greater Nashua, the group hoping to build the playground, was advocating previously to replace the playground equipment on the west side of Greeley Park.

But the Institute for Human Centered Design, the nonprofit group hired to rank locations in the city, believes the east side of Greeley Park is more suitable for the new play space, which has been dubbed Legacy Playground.

A $5,000 study that wrapped up last week identified an area near the access road on the southern tip of Greeley Park’s east side as the best spot for the playground in part because of its proximity to bathrooms and existing parking and recreational opportunities.

The site also scored well in the group’s review because it’s on a relatively flat area and is accessible by pedestrian paths and public transportation

“The setting is a hub of complimentary recreational activity, yet at the same time benefits from large nearby trees, a ridge that can protect the site from wind and a scenic park setting that is already a regional destination,” the study reads.

Lengthy public debates on the question of where to build the playground have occurred off-and-on for more than one year. The Board of Public Works approved a plan in December to site the playground on the west side of the park, but with some residents speaking out against the idea, aldermen have been hesitant to move forward.

The latest proposal from Leadership Greater Nashua called for replacing the existing playground equipment on the west side of Greeley Park. The group is raising funds to construct a new playground that could cost as much as $250,000.

The Institute for Human Centered Design concluded that, while it would be feasible to replace the existing playground equipment at Greeley, it would be more desirable to construct Legacy Playground on the east side.

The west side was ranked lower in part because it doesn’t have dedicated parking – only on-street parking – and because there is no existing route to the playground that would be easily-accessible for people with mobility problems. The fact that existing equipment would need to be torn down was also viewed as a negative.

“This site is recommended with reservations for the construction of an ‘off-the-shelf’ accessible playground due specifically to the unique wooded character of the site and the existing play structures, that while no longer meeting code by today’s safety standards, are obviously very-well used,” the study reads.

Although the study recommended a location on the east side of the park, members of Leadership Greater Nashua said they were pleased Sunday that Greeley was identified as the most suitable spot.

“It’s gratifying to have this report confirm what our due diligence has shown for over almost a year; Greeley Park is the best site for placing a new, all-accessible playground,” LGN spokesman Eric Brand said in statement Sunday.

Three people were hired to work on the Nashua playground study. They were Valerie Fletcher, executive director of the Institute for Human Centered Design; Ana Julian, an architectural designer and technical assistance specialist at the institute; and consultant Jennifer Brooke, principal at Lemon|Brooke Landscape Architecture, who holds a master’s degree in landscape architecture from Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.

They examined criteria that are “most favorable to creating accessible open spaces for people of all ages and abilities.”

Those criteria included having adjacent parking, building on an area with little or no elevation change and being accessible by bus or on foot.

They also looked for bathrooms, barrier-free sidewalks and paths that connect all the features, and took into account factors such as the nearby signage, soil, sun and wind conditions.

Nashua’s Board of Aldermen tasked the institute with examining a list of 10 potential sites, including three in Greeley Park. The group eventually evaluated 13 areas, including two sites on the east side of Greeley Park, which captured the top rankings from the group.

The number two ranking went to a location near the outfield area of the softball field on the east side of the park, beside a natural ridge.

The group ultimately ruled out five locations as being unsuitable for a new playground, based on their criteria. Among them was the area of Greeley Park near Manchester Street, which was deemed to have too steep a slope. It also suffers from a lack of parking.

Atherton Avenue was knocked off the list for some of the same reasons. Mine Falls Park was eliminated because of proximity to transmission lines, and concerns that traffic patterns nearby are unclear. Lincoln Park was ruled out because of its history as a prior landfill and asbestos dump site. North Common was found to be too small, and to have too many overlapping uses.

The Board of Aldermen is scheduled to hear more about the findings of the playground study from the Institute for Human Centered Design at a meeting Tuesday at 7 p.m. in the aldermanic chamber at City Hall.

Jim Haddadin can be reached at 594-6589 or jhaddadin@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Haddadin on Twitter (@Telegraph_JimH).